149. Memorandum of Conversation1

I invited Dobrynin to lunch when he called me for an appointment upon his return from Moscow. The conversation was cordial but businesslike. Dobrynin began the conversation by saying he had read the accounts of the Party Congress with great interest. He did not read in them a particular direction or new departure in foreign policy. On the contrary, he thought it in effect reaffirmed the direction of the previous Party Congress; that is to say, it stated a general proposition vis-à-vis the United States which would have to be given content by the Soviet Government later. However, it was in general to be stressed that the Soviet Union desired to improve relations. Dobrynin added that he thought the composition of the Politburo had not changed, contrary to what Western newspapers had said. The four new members had been candidate members previously and had attended the meetings. The fact that Kosygin followed Podgorny in the rank order was of no significance but reflected only the higher offices in the state that Podgorny occupied. It was clear that Brezhnev was the stronger figure but then the Party Secretary had always been strong. He had until recently not been as interested in foreign policy as some of his predecessors but this was beginning to change.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Berlin negotiations.]

We then turned to SALT. Dobrynin pulled out of his pocket a draft reply to a proposal of the President which conceded most of our points except for the Safeguard/Moscow arrangement. [A copy of the Soviet letter is attached at Tab (a)]2 I told Dobrynin that we would have difficulty accepting a Moscow/Washington exchange.3 Dobrynin said that [Page 451] it would be politically very difficult in the Soviet Union to accept it on any other basis. He said it would be hard to sell to the Politburo, that we could protect weapons while they had to protect their populations. He said that this might look like a cover for improving our ability to attack them.

I said this was wrong on two grounds. One, if we wanted to attack them we did not need to protect the missiles. The missiles were protected against an attack by them and therefore it was clearly a defensive intent. Secondly, the Soviet ABM ring around Moscow did protect 500 of their missiles. Dobrynin said this was nonsense, that no Soviet missiles were within a hundred kilometers of Moscow. I said I did not say they were within a hundred kilometers of Moscow, but that they were protected by the ABM ring within a hundred kilometers of Moscow. Dobrynin said that this was highly unlikely and even if it were true, it would be next to impossible to explain to the ordinary Soviet citizen. I said he was not doing justice to the ability of his government to convince their citizens. Dobrynin said it would be a really major matter to reopen the issue within the government. I said I would have to take up their reply with the President and let him know.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Tab A

Draft Letter From the Soviet Government to President Nixon4

“The Soviet Government has carefully considered the course of the exchange of opinion between the USSR and the United States delegations at the strategic armaments limitation talks.

Proceeding from the situation shaping up now at those talks, the Soviet Government believes it expedient to concentrate in the current year on solving the questions related to the limitation of ABM systems in order to conduct after the conclusion of a separate agreement on ABM limitation, active talks aimed at limiting strategic offensive [Page 452] weapons. The Soviet Government proceeds in this from the mutual understanding to the effect that the ABM limitation will constitute an important factor also in restraining the strategic offensive armaments race.

In order to facilitate more favorable conditions for finding ways of reaching an agreement on strategic offensive weapons limitation the Soviet side considers acceptable in principle the idea of ‘freezing’strategic offensive weapons and is prepared for reaching a basic understanding on this point having in mind that concrete details of such understanding—including questions related to the composition of strategic offensive weapons, as well as to the nature and dates of possible ‘freezing’—could be discussed before the work on the separate ABM agreement is completed. We proceed from the assumption that a ‘freeze’ on strategic offensive weapons should not affect the possibility of modernization and replacement of such weapons.

Guided by this, the Soviet Government will give instructions to its delegation at the strategic armaments limitation talks with the United States delegation to conduct negotiations in Vienna, aimed at drawing up the text of the ABM agreement proceeding from the assumption that deployment of the ABM systems by the USSR and the United States should be limited to the systems needed for the defense of the capitals—Moscow and Washington.

In such an agreement the obligation of the sides to continue active negotiations on the limitation of strategic offensive weapons will be fixed”.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 497, President’s Trip Files, Exchange of Notes Between Dobrynin and Kissinger, Vol. 1. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The conversation took place during lunch in the Map Room at the White House. The full text of the memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 189.
  2. Brackets in the original.
  3. On April 24 Haig sent Sonnenfeldt a note instructing him to prepare a response for Kissinger to this letter: “Henry suggested something along the following lines: the President appreciates the constructive reply to his proposal; discussion of the details of an offensive freeze are to concluded simultaneously with the conclusion of the ABM agreement. It is evident from this that Henry wants a very brief reply to the modified Soviet note in which the fundamental principle of simultaneity is emphasized as a non-negotiable precondition. In this regard I believe it is important that we consider what kinds of dates should be fixed for the framework of the freeze agreement. Henry had in mind perhaps 1 January 1972 for the completion of all on-going construction of any kind and 1 July of this year as the cut-off date for any new starts. Even the above gives me some concern in light of the 50-plus new holes that have been initiated in the brief period of the last three months. I would appreciate having your ideas on this without your telling Henry that I brought you this far into his thinking.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 497, President’s Trip Files, Exchange of Notes Between Dobrynin and Kissinger, Vol. I)
  4. No classification marking. A notation on the letter reads: “Delivered 1:00 pm, 4/23 to Mr. Kissinger by Amb D.”